A wedding in a cold church
They start playing something reasonably slow. Not too slow or it will sound creaky, not too fast or the fingers just won't keep up with the brain. What should we play? Not Handel's Water Music, that would definitely freeze up in the sub Zero temperature. Certainly something baroque. There's not as much subtlety in bowing and vibrato in baroque music as in something like Elgar.
But gradually all the members of the string quartet begin to warm up, muscles start to relax and the arriving guests have music tto listen to, to distract them from the punishing temperature. Things are just getting under way when a black figure looms towards the musicians and just gesticulates for us to stop right in the middle of a movement. We bring the music to a stop as quickly and elegantly as is possible. The vicar is huge and threatening. Then we realise that it’s just that they've got several jumpers under their robes. They knew about the temperature in this church and came prepared in arctic Gear. It seems that the chairs we're supposed to be here but somebody on the committee forgot about it, but the vicar is glad that we've used your initiative.
The vicar explains their version of the order of service, the signal they will give when they're ready to bring the bought bride into the church for the processional up the aisle and where the wedding ceremony is going to take place. There is an organist who will play for the hymns, always good to have an organ to drag the congregation along.The string quartet do sometimes lead the singing, but they have to be positioned in front of the congregation to conduct them with the first violinist movements and in this tiny church there was no room for this to happen.
They agreed what pieces they were playing for the signing of the register and the signal the vicar would give when ready to continue with the Wedding ceremony. Finally the vicar indicated what they were going to say immediately prior to the recessional. All was in place and had taken barely any time at all.
The quartet continues to play as more guests come through the door shuffling into place filling the pews. 10 minutes to go. Please don't be late. ( yes, Brides are traditionally late and some take it to an extreme.)
There's been no mention of bell ringers in the church. If there had been there would have been some discussion about when the Bells would ring and when the string quartet would play. The leader had discussed Belles and brides and any other things with the Bride a couple of months earlier. Perhaps this is something the church decided to do as a gift the wedding ceremony. No matter, when the bells begin the quartet has to stop. For most of the year stopping for a brief rest as the bells ring is a welcome relief, but in this temperature movement is the only thing that keeps the musicians warm, so they just want to keep going.
The bells begin to ring. For such a small church it has some powerful bells up there in the belfry.
The string quartet draw their music to an elegant conclusion. Hands and fingers instantly go into pockets or under jackets to keep any remnants of heat in them for when the Bride makes her entrance. Please don't be long.
Instruments instantly start to move out of tune. A little surreptitious tuning and then hands back into pockets and under scarves.
The vicar is peering through the door. A strange but well practiced gesture and the bells are silenced. Hands come out from pockets, instruments are raised, the door opens and there is the Bride looking beautiful in her wedding dress, her arms and shoulders bear. But with so much adrenaline she doesn’t feel the cold, it feels like a summer's day to her.
The vicar turns, nods to the string quartet who strike up the entrance music bringing all the guests to their feet.
The temperature of the church is instantly forgotten by everyone, even the musician.
Well, this isn't a specific wedding, it's just my memories drifting around combining various freezing cold weddings I've played for in churches around the country. When playing in a church, even in the summer, and experienced string quartet musician will put on their thermal vest and wooly socks.
Things have changed over the years and there are far more civil ceremonies in hotels and similar venues than there are in traditional churches. Very often the problem in a wedding venue is the opposite to that have a church, it is often too warm. One has moved from frozen hands to perspiring brow. And the acoustics in a modern hotel are nowhere as good as in the church, so that makes it harder to play in. You see, the string quartet musician is never satisfied, they're always grumbling, but then that is really because they're always trying very hard to do their best and play music for that very special wedding that they are a part of.
But of course, not all churches are cold, not even in the winter. With my string quartet and it's associated chamber Orchestra, over the years we must have played in concerts to raise money for church heating, lighting and roofs over half of Herefordshire and Worcestershire. Occasionally you get churches like the amazing Pershore Abbey, where they have installed a Hi-Tec underfloor heating system. With this kind of heating the floor is warmed to just one or two degrees above the desired air temperature. Although it is such a small temperature difference, because of the huge area of the floor, The Heat transfer is sufficient to heat the building.
It is of particular advantage in tall buildings like churches and Abbey's. The conventional heating system uses hot pipes or hot radiators. The temperature may be 50 or 60 degrees above the desired air temperature, especially if steam heating systems are used as in some old churches. Therefore the air that is close to radiator is very much hotter than the surrounding air, and as with a hot air balloon, the hot air Rises to the top of the church. The cold air remains at floor level where the people are, and the bats and birds that live in the roof are too hot.
With the heating system in Pershore the air temperature is evenly warm. I don't know if the temperature has ever been measured at rooftop height, but I would expect it to be not too different from the temperature at ground level. So for the orchestral players and the audience it is a wonderful place to hear music. The one thing is that cellists have to be careful with their instruments. It's not uncommon for a cellist to place their instrument on the floor, which is ok if the floor is cold or at room temperature, but when it's slightly warm it doesn't do the instrument a lot of good. But having to put a cello away in the case during intervals between rehearsals is a small price to pay for playing in a warm and comfortable environment and of course it improves the quality of the music.